The Lay of Ægir’s Daughters ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse IV

Find part III of the Saga here.

 

“You think we should make a sacrifice of some of these shrimp?”

“Might have better luck with some beer.”

“Fair enough. So, what’s the protocol?”

“As long as it doesn’t involve dancing without your undies on, I’m open.”

“I think it’s more of a – H’OH BOY that one was close – matter of singing and waving your arms about.”

“We are doomed. No offense sister dear, but you couldn’t carry a tune if – whoops, there go the lights again – your next dinner depended on it. Mother? Any thoughts?”

“Mmmfmmmf?” (they are good shrimp).

Kommandorgarden Restaurant

Picture it: Rømø, 2016. A lone isle off the coast of Denmark, just after dusk has fallen. Not that you’d know, unless like the Allfather’s Ravens you rise above the clouds and see the sinking sun lingering in the west. Because beneath those clouds, night reigns supreme. A night filled with mighty thunder and lightning and torrents of rain. To stand beneath, or run through, this deluge might appeal to a Newfoundland Dog, or mayhap a lobster. The humans for their part huddle in the hotel’s hyggelig restaurant, some of them still sporting the look that one of said dogs might have after traversing the sea from Canada to Greenland. Where they linger, random puddles form on the hardwood floor, tirelessly chased and mopped up by Pierre the Softspoken. No, he shall not permit one of the gentle guests he cares for so diligently, clucks over like a mother goose with but one chick, to slip and fall into the Æbleflæsk. Least of all shall he allow harm to come to the shining young Valkyrie whose majestic stature and hearty laugh have captured his romantic’s soul. Considering how enthusiastically the ladies decimate tonight’s “Danish Delights” buffet, his task is not an easy one.

“Thor!” Pierre murmurs to the three lovely, if rather damp ladies in the corner, leaning on his mop and gesturing at the mayhem beyond the windows. Since all three have their cheeks stuffed like hamsters after a famine, they only answer by nodding in unison. The old boy is indeed busy this eve, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr making a mighty ruckus as they pull his chariot across the skies. Probably a bit late now to offer a fine sacrifice of assorted seafood and ale. Even if the rødspætte is fit for Gods. Once more the warm lights flicker, and but a heartbeat later the thunder seems to rise from the earth itself, sinking into bone and marrow and setting it to vibrate in sympathy. Soft curses in Swedish sound from the next booth over, where other horse people wait out the divine wrath.

At least they made it just in time. Not that the havoc wreaked upon the isle came entirely without warning. When the Valkyries and their new friends embarked on the magical Sønderstrand tour this second afternoon, temperatures had gone from yesterday’s “For fanden! This is my third shower today!” to all out “For helvede! This weather is fit for coconuts and parrots, not mighty Danish warriors!”. But it was less the tropical air which creased Olaf’s brow and made sweaty horses eye the horizon with a mixture of hope and foreboding. They knew, the moment the winds shifted. Which was, of course, a full hour into the tour. The dreaded “point of no return” that every pilot knows, when all you can do is push full throttle and hang on to your underpants. One forgets, in Bavaria’s gentle hills, how rapidly the weather may change near the ocean. How a sky of Caribbean blue can fill with ominous black clouds, racing afore the storm, in what feels like a heartbeat.

It was a charge worthy of song and story, down that vast expanse of sand and seawater, hooves thundering and manes flying like banners. Led by Elder Valkyrie, whose defiant “Forth, Eorlingas!” had the unforeseen side effect of proving that their dignified German companion not only has a sense of humor, but is capable of riding at full gallop while laughing herself into a hiccup. They outraced the tempest, the brave companions did. Barely. For no sooner had they fed and rubbed down their noble steeds and returned them to the herd, than lightning rendered the air in the west and the first fat drops of the deluge formed craters in the dry earth.

600 yards can feel like miles if you’re running into the gale, but they made it. Piling into the restaurant a sodden mess, but they made it. With the kitchens not quite officially in business yet but already turning out the first delights of the evening, and kind Therese rustling up a stack of towels, the gallant riders decided that the Nornir had the right idea. And thus it was that the waterlogged arrivals of the second hour (those few, those valiant few) were greeted by a half-dried bunch in riding attire and towels, already digging into the feast.

“So much for the Seal Safari tomorrow, I suppose.”

“Never say die, sister mine.”

A mighty gust of wind pushes against the windows, and Pierre the Softspoken casts a rueful gaze at some plastic chairs tumbling past outside. The wreckage of a brightly colored parasol bounces behind them, barely visible behind the veil of water.

Mother Valkyrie has spied the dessert emerging from the kitchens and decides that if they are to brave the roiling seas tomorrow, she might as well have some extra Rødgrød on her ice cream. And a glass of that rum. Maybe two. What could possibly go wrong?

(Denmark Lesson the Fifth: Thou shalt seek to emulate the Dane’s Unruffability in All Things. Weather report somehow missed a massive storm brewing? Patio furniture halfway to Sweden? A restaurant smelling of caramel and berries and wet horse? Break open a few bottles and bring out the old guitar. Watch an American teaching a Swede and a Dane the words to “Barrett’s Privateers”. Tell sagas of old; of daring seafarers and dynastic feuds. Have another glass.)    

Picture it…

Havneby, 2016. Silver-grey skies spit a fitful rain down onto a small group of tourists. Last night’s raging tempest has spent its wrath by dawn, but the wind still tugs hard on hair and clothing, and churns the ocean waves. “Det blæser en halv pelican,’ as Olaf notes with a wink of mischief before unloading his three Americans at port. All the same, the faithful little ferry calls for its passengers with an urgent honk. Last chance to back out.

“I have a weird feeling about this.”

“If mother can do it hung over, we don’t exactly have a good excuse.”

“As long as she doesn’t sing about wishing to be in Sherbrooke again, I think I can handle it.”

“Children…”

“Yes?” – “Ja?”

“Never mind. My hair hurts. Shall we?”

“Yo ho and a bottle of rum! I mean, sure.”

Bára, Blóðughadda, Bylgja, and Dúfa; Hefring, Himinglæva, Hrönn, Kólga, and Uðr, all of old Ægir’s girls are out to play. Tossing the stout little ferry this way and that, like kittens with a ball of wool. Somewhere starboard of where mother Valkyrie attempts to find her sea-legs by letting the wind blow the fuzz out of her brain, a green-faced fellow passenger leans over the railing, contemplating the unfairness of the universe. Elder Daughter calmly strolls the deck with a rolling gait, keen eyes scanning the horizon. A sudden downpour shoos everyone inside, but as the ferry bobs and bucks her way into List harbor, a few tentative rays of sunlight peek out behind the clouds.

Well and so. There she sits, the charming old wooden fishing vessel of Seal Safari fame. Swaying cheerfully in her berth, awaiting the last batch of her passengers. Aside from the Americans and the lively Briton, fellow rider and mother’s worthy rival at the breakfast buffet, there are two Germans with skeptical expressions and a half dozen Danish teens with a harried elder in tow.

“Moin!” Helga’s German counterpart Rieke ushers her flock on board, scarcely pausing for breath as she explains the itinerary, ascertains just how many languages she needs to use today, and intersperses with nautical speak and random orders to the placid, amiable captain and crewman.

“Deutsch? Nein? English for you four? Ja gut. Uweeee! Machma hinne!”

“??!”

Taciturn the small crew may be, and move without undue haste, but there can be no doubt of their competence, for in short order the little vessel with the bright red hull plows into the waves. It may be wishful thinking, but it feels to mother Valkyrie as if frothy Uðr is about to call it a day. Not that it helps much when playful Dúfa yet tosses the little boat hither and thither, making the delighted teens tumble over one another with shrieks and laughter, while the stately German couple wrap themselves into Friesian Martens. They appear to be on to something, for the rain has returned in earnest. Out into the endless ocean they venture, water from above, water below, steel grey and cerulean blue. Every now and then excited teens point at motion in the water – an inquisitive porpoise! And there! Was that a dolphin? No, the sturdy young Dane with tawny hair plastered to his temples declares. That was a porpoise calf! Mother will take his word for it, she’s too busy wiping the rain out of her eyes to see aught but glossy humps emerge from the waves.

Roughly an hour and a half at sea and the downpour turned drizzle, Rieke gauges the time right to pull up a few rather startled creatures from the ocean’s bottom to commence the educational part of the journey. Crabs, mussels, snails, and an annoyed starfish are gently lowered into a shallow glass basin for us to fawn over. Of course the Billow Maidens choose this time to sound their final charge of the day. Coming up hard from port, Hefring gives the valiant vessel a playful push and before mother Valkyrie’s bewildered eyes, eight teens and a German journey to starboard in a tangled pile of limbs. Not that the silver-blue eyed young Dane seems much put out, having taken the opportunity to gallantly let himself be landed on by the smallest of the Valkyries (“Lucky,” spake the Elder “what I land on stays landed on!”).

Alas, even as the winds abate bit by bit to a fussy breeze, the rain falls again in fat drops. Not that the seals seem to mind. For yes, there they are, at last. Silvery white and freckled tan Harbor Seals, doughty Grey Seals with broad snouts and quizzical expressions. Lounging on sandbanks, dozing, playing, obviously familiar with the funny red boat bobbing on the gentle waves, winding its way through their territory. A few courtesy barks greet the lively group of waving and shouting biped youngsters. No two arm spans from the hull, a few heads pop out of the water. Lustrous black eyes examine the funny humans, then disappear again.

Drenched nigh to the bone for the second time in under 24 hours, Mother Valkyrie decides it was all more than worth it.

Seal Safari I

(Denmark Lesson the Sixth: Thou shalt not believe the tales that there is such a thing as waterproof clothing. Unless thou ventureth forth in a wetsuit, thou shalt get wet. From the crown of thy head to the soles of thy feet. Yet never fear, for if you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit. An hour, a day, ten minutes. The seas shall rise and calm again, the winds shall scuttle the clouds and then bring new ones. And there will be rainbows, and all the shades of blue and grey you can imagine, and a few more besides. Don’t bother with an umbrella, though. Sweden has already declared they’ve more than enough of them, thank you kindly. Even if the Briton’s fancy orange one was rather fetching). 

Seal Safari II

It is, naturally, on the way back to port that the skies clear for long enough to peel out of oilskins and not-so-waterproof-after-all jackets, and expose damp shirts and sodden hair to the summer sun. The utterly smitten young Dane briefly loses his capacity for speech when the slender youngest Valkyrie reveals her “Screw the prince, I’ll take the horse!” t-shirt. Unless “Wstfgl!” is a Danish sound of appreciation for white cotton plastered to an unexpectedly feminine shape.

If mother had been asked, she would have placed bets that at least one of the lively teenagers shall take a bath before the day is done. Not that a bit of extra saltwater would make a great difference by now. But as the little vessel glides back into harbor on only playfully ruffled seas, and all the passengers reach dry land safely, it is once more proven that she’d make a lousy Völva. Yet the Fates are not so easily cheated. All it takes is a bereft Briton, mourning the ill fortune of his second favorite umbrella, and an inconvenient bit of concrete waylaying said distracted traveler, pitching him inexorably over the edge. And a charitable Valkyrie with a trained warrior’s reflexes and the grace and elegance of a one legged goose.

It is astonishing, mother muses while treading water, how cultured even the most vicious curses sound in that accent. It is however difficult to determine whether he is protesting the fact he was safely, if firmly, deposited on terra firma on his hind end, or feels wounded in his sense of chivalry. Maybe both? Just as mother opens her mouth to apologize for the rescue gone slightly awry, Elder Shieldmaiden waves from above, her expression somewhat unsurprised.

“Nicely done, mother. That half spin with minor lift was inspired.”

“I was aiming for a Rittberger, but thank you. Now would you mind…”

“Coastguard is coming. I don’t want to disappoint the guys, they look so happy someone fell in right in front of their noses.”

“Ah. Can’t have that, can we.”

“Also, I heard they give people grog after they fish them out.”

“I knew I raised smart children.”

 

(The legend, it turns out, is quite true. While usually not applicable to someone who merely fell into the harbor on a valiant errand, the good Captain of the Pidder Lüng was amused enough to make an exception. This, combined with the beers which the fine British gentleman insisted on buying for his impromptu rescuer, made for a rather jolly ferry-ride home to Rømø. And lest it be supposed that the younger Shieldmaidens are heartless and unmoved by their dam’s plight: They’re just used to it. “Can’t take her anywhere, but she’s got the credit cards” used to it). 

Seal Safari III

Vafthruthnir spake:
“In an eagle’s guise | at the end of heaven
Hræsvelg sits, they say;
And from his wings | does the wind come forth
To move o’er the world of men.”

 

The Saga will continue as the dauntless explorers once more set out across the isle, with steeds of steel and those with hooves. Facing untold dangers from land, sea and air, they walk the Allfather Óðinn’s path and learn an awful lot of things. Mostly, what not to do.

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Where the Viking Horses Roam ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse III

Find part II of the Saga here.

 

“Welp, that’s one way to stand out.”

Thus spake the youngest Valkyrie, her lambent eyes dancing with mirth. For so it was, that the three fair ladies were garbed in cloth unlike that of other riders come to choose their noble steeds. Not tall boots nor fine linens, not helmets black as raven’s feather. Of the far West their colors sing, of lands beyond the waves…

Hej! Olaf’s Americans?”

“I sense a theme here.”

“Hush, you. Yes, ma’am, the very same.”

“No madam. Just Helga.”

“Oh, like Floki’s…”

“Sister heart, if you start humming the Vikings theme song I shall clobber you with the poop rake I see hence!”

“It is well,” spake fair Helga “I rather like the series.”

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”

Gleði
“For Fanden, it’s hot today!” – spake Gleði the Horse

Picture it: Rømø, 2016. A sunlit courtyard, a dozen-and-four horse people milling about, taking in the beauty of their surroundings. Barns and stables painted a cheerful red, a little house containing a break room and another which holds the saddles, bridles, brushes and myriad minutiae of the horse world. And an Olaf. One who, unbeknownst to the happily exploring ladies outside, is picking three cards from a shelf to reserve the horses pictured thereon. With the solemn gravity of a warrior preparing for battle, he checks stirrups and reins, saddle pads and girths.

The ladies meanwhile are busy admiring the 60 horse strong herd beyond the barns. Dozing or lazily nibbling at the grass in the afternoon’s heat, there are Icelandic Horses of every color known to man. A Shire Horse, peeking shyly at the humans from behind a cluster of little Vikings half her size. Two familiar donkeys, heads buried in a pile of hay, their clever eyes picking out the apple-donating humans from earlier. ‘No bicycles with baskets’, one admonishes with a swish of his tail. ‘Still’, the other thoughtfully twists his ears ‘one never knows with bipeds. If one falls down, check for carrots. But quickly, before the horses catch on’.

Effortlessly switching between three languages, tall Helga with the eyes blue as summer skies sorts the bipedal herd into three groups: beginner, intermediate, advanced. Shiny black boots, sturdy paddock boots, and a lone pair of Wellies attached to a sprightly Briton shuffle obediently. Who needs longboats and axes when you have a Helga with a cheerful smile and firm contralto voice? The Americans, already set apart by their cotton shirts and soft, worn jeans falling over robust Western boots, are gently herded towards the tack room. “Olaf has the halters for your ponies. He does advanced group today.”

Advanced. Oh, dear.

Mother’s meek protest dies in her throat as the youngest Valkyrie drags her onward by the elbow with a satisfied harrumph. She for one hasn’t come to sedately plod along the worn paths. Oh, no! It is adventure she seeks, elated flight across the endless horizons! Older daughter, once more the image of her grandsire’s equanimity and aplomb, follows with a quiet smile. This should be interesting.

(Denmark Lesson the Third: Thou shalt not underestimate the Dane’s capacity for mischief. Even if your trusted coach called ahead to inform her old friend of your riding abilities and preferences. Especially then.)

“So, little one. You take the little stallion. He’s a very nice boy. And you, you have Happy. Not so fast as your mare back home I think, but who is?”

Two down, mother yet to go. Two cards are laid out on the table, one depicting a sleek black horse with proud eyes and a mane that would make a Friesian eat his own halter in a fit of envy; one showing a tall, flaxen-maned chestnut with a cheerful expression. Incidentally, all three cards bear a small red mark on the back. This can’t be good, can it?

“For mother I have Little Red. She likes quiet hands. Then she flies like a greased owl.”

“I’m not sure I want to know what that means.”

“You will.”

The third card is unveiled. Another chestnut mare, blonde mane over auburn coat, and the devil in her eyes.

(Non-Horse-People note: Quiet Hands as opposed to Loud Hands describes a rider with a light, calm touch on the reins, and a tendency to give subtle cues rather than wave brightly colored signaling flags while the horse is shouting “I heard you the first time dammit!!”. Not surprisingly horses tend to prefer Quiet Hands, and it has been mine own consistent and often only saving grace when otherwise I’ve annoyed my horses in each and every other way possible).

1st Ride
Everyone follow me, I’m the person with the least clue where we’re going!

Greased Owl (/ɡriːs aʊl/): Not a nocturnal bird of prey after an encounter with a vat of butter. Rather, a five-gaited equine exhibiting an ability to fly low and at great velocity, giving the impression of gliding across the landscape like a merciless hunter, while any fortunate and/or terrified passenger holds on for dear life. Reaches full Grease potential in the Flugskeið on account of smoothly achieving speeds to which the Laws of Physics shrug and declare “Don’t look at us, we had nothing to do with it!”

1st Ride II
“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it” – (Act II, Scene IV)

It is a small group that leaves the courtyard under the guidance of fair Olaf and his jovial grey gelding. Having properly introduced themselves to their fine steeds with a friendly brushing and a careful pre-flight check under Helga’s approving gaze, the Valkyries have saddled up and mounted. They are joined by two more riders, an elegant German lady and a merry Swede with an amazing gift of foresight -he brought snacks!

A slight breeze from the east ruffles hair and manes as they turn inland, seeking the shade of tall trees. A crosswalk specifically marked for horses allows them to cross the main road, indulgently watched by Danish drivers. As their small group leisurely walks and tölts through groves of Scotch pine and birch, mother Valkyrie begins to relax. The harmony between elder daughter and her spirited mare is obvious, and youngest bringing up the rear with her lively stallion is glowing brightly enough to put the summer sun to shame. A match made in Valhalla, those two are. Or rather, two bundles of mischief who have found their soulmate. Mighty Loki himself better hold on to his shirt, for those two would steal the apples straight from his pockets and leave him in the dust.

Of course, mother should have known better than to dismiss Murphy and his Law quite so quickly.

(Denmark Lesson the Fourth: Thou shalt not fall asleep at the reins! Not even if you’ve gotten along with your horse in such spectacular fashion that the bold little mare seems to respond to a fleeting thought. Especially then). 

No sooner does the merry group emerge from the trees onto a flat expanse where tall grass sways in the lazy breeze, than Olaf turns in the saddle with a grin, and six little horses prick their ears. Some words float through the air that seems to shimmer in a warm, golden light – “…ok to pass,” it sounds like in Olaf’s pleasant baritone, and “…line up again at dunes”. There might be more words, but they’re drowned by a triumphant yee-HAAAW and the sudden thundering of hooves as something sleek, black, and fleet-footed whooshes past mother Valkyrie. Proud Sörli Jonakrson and his Shieldmaiden, it seems, did not need to be told twice.

Meanwhile, mother’s noble steed gives a few experimental canter hops, and when no negating signal from her nonplussed rider counters her initiative, Little Red concludes it is Go Time. As in, “I’ll show that swaggering stallion how it’s done!” Go Time.

There is a sound one makes, usually involuntarily, when sudden and unexpectedly rapid acceleration occurs. The kind of acceleration that presses you into your seat as a jetplane’s engines roar full throttle at liftoff. The kind that makes you instinctively and desperately seek a deeper seat in the saddle as a five gaited Viking ignites the afterburner and switches to Flying Pace. No, not this sound. The “HHNFFNNNFFF!!” one. Somehow, some way, it must have sounded like “Hraðar!”, or “Hurtig!” To the fiery blonde, already vexed by the sight of five luxurious tails waving in front of her, it is all the encouragement she needs. And besides, her rider’s seat moved into excellent alignment upon the switch to flugskeið, so she must be in full agreement that more speed is called for. Right? Right.

Somehow that plain looked a lot larger 10 seconds ago. And where did the other horses go? The black one is still there, and the chipper pinto with his Swede is just ahead… never mind. Was ahead. As mother finally wraps her head around the idea that a gentle tug on the reins might not go amiss, a bunch of hardy shrubs that looked a lot smaller 15 seconds ago loom larger and larger with worrisome speed. In order to overtake the proud stallion who is so joyously stretching his legs, Little Red must swerve just a tad to the right…

“Shrub!” the laughing elder Shieldmaiden warns from somewhere not far behind.

“Aih know!” Mother Valkyrie attempts to holler back, but opening her mouth at this juncture was precisely the wrong thing to do. As impromptu snacks go, Danish shrubbery leaves somewhat to be desired.

Little Red for her part has elegantly ducked beneath the twigs and is now expressing her extreme satisfaction at having her nose level with stallion’s withers by ways of a cheerful snort. Absentmindedly chewing on a leaf, mother realizes several things at once:

Those dunes look awfully close.

This is what Olaf meant with “greased”.

This is a fast horse.

I am an idiot.

Awfully close.

Right. Reins. Tug. “But I almost had him!” (reluctant reduction of speed) – Sternly brace lower back. Tug. “Unh, fine. Don’t come crying to me when he gloats, though!” (smooth transition to tölt, walk) – Relax. Praise. “That’s right. I am the wind, the flame, the buttered owl! You may worship my magnificence!” (soft snort, nod). 

It is astonishingly easy to come to a gentle halt to await the arrival of the rest of the cavalry once one remembers how to ride, rather than be a delighted yet utterly befuddled passenger. With twigs in her hair.

“Shrubs to left of her, shrubs to right of her, volleyed and thundered…”

“… boldly she rode and well, into the jaws of … uh, shrubs.”

“Children?”

“Yes?” – “Ja?”

“Shut it.”

First Ride III
“You go ahead, then you have no horse bum in the photo, eh?” (-Olaf)

Picture it…

Six horses, an endless beach, hooves splashing in the surf. A little stallion prances and nickers playfully. The riders are chatting and laughing after an hour long trek along the coastline, cantering, trotting, walking, tölting. There has been another brief race, and a most welcome break in the dunes when a smart Swede handed out cookies (instantly becoming elder Valkyrie’s new best buddy) and Olaf produced bottles of water and paper cups from his saddlebag (instantly becoming mother Valkyrie’s hero). Far too soon, it feels, they are turning back. Through another copse of trees, through meadows, eastwards across the isle, down another beach.

“So. Greased owl, huh?”

“With extra grease” Olaf smiles, “when she likes you.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

The mighty Dane with the golden beard shrugs. “Last one she put in the roses.”

Now he tells me.

First Ride IV
Good people, watch out for the mud! The mud, I say! Oh dear…

“Glath and Gyllir, | Gler and Skeithbrimir,
Silfrintopp and Sinir,
Gisl and Falhofnir, | Golltopp and Lettfeti,
On these steeds the gods shall go
When dooms to give | each day they ride
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil.”

 

The Saga continues as the fair Valkyries continue to explore the isle, brave mighty storms and Thor’s own wrath, discover priceless treasures, and somehow find the time for mead, song, and romantic interludes characterized by much confusion, Bells and Alarums, and in one case, an unexpected bath.

The Ballad of the Valkyries ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse II

Find Verse I of the Saga here

 

“Have you no shame, woman?”

“This is Denmark. Keep your shirt on.”

I am wearing one. Which is the issue, as it were.”

“You’re such an American!”

Thus I awoke, on our first morning on the magical island of Rømø, to a friendly squabble between obviously well rested teenagers. Teenagers frolicking in the morning sun, out on the patio. Wait – we have a patio?

Denmark I
The things one discovers at dawn’s first light…

Picture it: Denmark, 2016. A midsummer morning dawns over a charmed little island in the Wadden Sea. Skinfaxi of the Shining Mane has only just gotten underway, but the sunlight is already trickling into the cozy little room where an American mother of two lively teens blinks with bemusement at the unfamiliar sheets of a large and fluffy bed. Very fluffy. One could bury a horse in here and never find it again. Through the open backdoor the sounds of other early risers filter towards her ears. Seagulls, mostly, apparently protesting the teens chasing one another across the grass. Once again there is a smell of roses, and the nearby ocean. Still feeling the past day’s long journey in her bones but ready to seek adventure and coffee (not necessarily in that order), Mother of the Fiery Mane rolls out of bed and lands with a soft little thud.

They had expected a hotel room, the three scions of proud Scandinavian warriors and sailors. What they got was a little apartment with kitchen and bathroom and living room and two bedrooms – one with a solid wood bunk bed right out of a Danish Dream – , spacious yet cozy. The place is past its glory days, that much one can tell. Yet what makes the fine German couple next door frown and harangue the amiable staff, is precisely what the three ladies love. That “Je ne sais quoi”. That elusive magic between nostalgia and rustic charm, between Scandinavian simplicity and playful whimsy. The wood panels, the patio with untended, scrappy rose bushes. The creaky but criminally comfortable couch. The complimentary coffee in the cabinets!

Coffee!

Mother has a mission. While older daughter (She with the fine stature and stopping power of a Shieldmaiden) consents at last to cease frolicking in her shorts and bra to appease younger daughter (92.3 pounds of distilled Viking energy), an aging appliance coughs and gurgles its way towards producing a heavenly brew. Books and covers. Judge not.

There is a breakfast buffet already available, but the ladies have not yet discovered the marvels it offers. Far, far from Continental horrors, the sunlit room with tongue-in-cheek overdone maritime decor holds Denmark’s most prized firstmeal treasures. The traditional round breakfast rolls of course, with assorted jams, jellies, and local honey. Local is the cheese as well, and so is the wienerbrød. Cereals, assorted fresh fruit, ymer. Tiny, piping hot sausages. One might think the kindly staff is expecting the Æsir to pop by for a spell. With a couple of hungry giants in tow.

Since they do not yet know of the feast awaiting in wood-paneled Nóatún, the caffeine-fortified graces go exploring. Their curiosity and the never ending call of new horizons will not let them linger any more. What lies hidden behind the screen of shrubs that protects the little island of grass behind their rooms from the eternal wind? Well, what but the sea?

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A smattering of red and white cottages to the right, a little pasture to the left. Hello, Mr Donkey, was it you who serenaded us to sleep last night? (“I shall call him Eeyore!” – “Because he looked as if he was going to say ‘Thanks for noticing me’ any moment?” – “Ah, you noticed, too!”) A little further down the sandy path they stumble across an assortment of travel trailers – that bright yellow teardrop one is without a doubt the literal highlight – and some fellow tourists wave sleepy “Good morning” greetings.

Then after scarcely 400 yards, beyond more wild rose shrubs and patches of sweetbriar, a riot of blossoms in dozens of shades of pink draped over lush greens, the hardy grass gives way to white sand and black mud. Very clingy black mud. What in Hel’s name is this stuff?

(Denmark Lesson the First: Thou shalt not look for seashells striding barefoot through unknown mud! It may smell better than Gorilla Glue, yet surpasses the latter’s adhesive powers by an order of magnitude!)

It’s a merry little trio that walks back towards the hotel. Bathed in mid-morning sunlight, clutching their pretty oyster shells and resembling friendly Mud Monsters, or at least escapees from an unconventional spa. Their growling stomachs would suggest Monsters. Yet there’s nothing for it, a shower is in order lest they want to practice saying Undskyld! for the rest of the day for leaving squishy onyx-colored decorations wherever they go.

Well scrubbed and positively ravenous, they enter the hallowed halls of Rømø breakfast battles, and though they be late for the party, there is hardly a dent in the abundance. This, of course, must be rectified immediately.

(Denmark Lesson the Second: Thou shalt go easy on the spicy little sausages if you’ve a 2 hour trail ride planned that afternoon. That, or bring a pack horse with waterskins)

“They keep feeding us like this, we’ll need a freighter instead of a ferry to get us back over.”

“So be it. You’re still going to eat that …whatever it is?”

“Yes. Hands off. Say, weren’t there little black bicycles outside? Can you rent those?”

“Sister mine, I like the way you think. Wonder how expensive it is. Mother, you should inquire. Ow! Fine, I’ll get my own food. Hello? No don’t take that away yet. I mean, hvis du vil være så … not take. Jeg sulten… yesthankyou. Tak. Tusind.”

(from this day forth a young Danish man shall be so utterly enamored with the tiny Viking cousin from afar, he will staunchly defend the buffet tables from being cleared until the fair maiden signals she is fit to burst. Either that, or he cannot believe it is possible to eat one’s own weight in ymerdrys every morning). 

Denmark II
“Sancho”, faithful metal mount, survivor of many a battle and carrier of cookies

A pittance. That’s how expensive it is to rent three bicycles in Denmark for a week. A “one loaf of bread and a carton of milk” pittance. Of course, they’re the Volvo of the two-wheeled world: sturdy, reliable, no pointless shenanigans. A big basket for shopping, though. Which leaves a small dilemma: Until it is time to saddle up, shall the three graces soak up the sun and frolic in the pool, or shall they descend upon the nearby supermarket for an impromptu raid? Shall they explore? It is getting rather hot again …

Once more, the call of the horizon wins. Must be something in their DNA.

Onward, faithful two-wheeled Rocinante! (yes, mother has drawn the bicycle farthest past its prime). Gosh, I hope that supermarket takes American credit cards, I’m perishing of thirst.

Picture it…

Two stunningly lovely young ladies, riding dusty black bicycles down a dirt path towards the sea. Laughing and trading amiable insults. At a slight distance behind them pedals a third lady, muttering savagely elegant curses under her breath. Her sweat soaked auburn hair is plastered to her temples, her vehicle squeaks and groans in protest. If the young graces are shining Valkyries seeming to float above the path in the bright summer light, mother Valkyrie resembles a disheveled fox freshly pulled from Allfather Óðinn’s mead barrel.

The baskets on their bicycles are stuffed to the brim with essentials – water, cookies, milk and bread, apples and pastries, some exotic Danish delicacies. They have decided to take a small detour on the way home, to pass by the horses and scout the place they mean to honor with their presence a little over an hour from now. Behind a row of the ever present wild rose shrubs and hedges, two donkeys eye mother Valkyrie with skeptical expressions. Wise old creatures, they know this will not end well. As the mumbled foreign curses move beyond the shrubs, and Rocinante emerges along the fence, they sagely nod to one another and waggle their long ears. Wait for it…

There are potholes, and there are potholes. Then there are badly disguised portals to Jǫtunheimr. It is one of the latter which mother fox enters unwittingly. Just as the young Valkyries have effortlessly evaded the yawning crater, their dam effortlessly finds the spot of maximum calamity (what can I say, it’s a talent).

Only a perplexed “HNFF!!!!” followed by a suspicious thud alerts the young graces that something is amiss – that, and the lone wheel bouncing towards them, free and unfettered, unburdened of the rest of the bicycle. Or unicycle now, as it were.

Less than glorious mother Valkyrie may be, but she’s a wily fox. One who has fallen on her face and every other body part, literally and figuratively, so many times it has become second nature. So she’s quite fine as she sits in the dust, mumbling and surveying the wreckage of her unicycle. The bread hasn’t fared quite so well, having been landed on, and a few of the apples have sailed far enough for the taller donkey to make a bid for them through the fence.

The young Valkyries come coasting back, suppressed laughter on their faces as they contemplate the carnage and make certain mother is truly and well unharmed beyond her dented pride. “Dearly beloved,” intones the younger “we are gathered here today to bid farewell to Rocinante…” – “I seriously thought you were going to go with the spilled milk!” declares the elder. – “Naw. Too obvious. But really, mother. That one was at least a nine point four.” – “Thank you, daughter mine. Now would someone get the apples before … never mind. Velbekomme, Mr. Donkey.”

 

Fully prepared to pay for the damage, mother was informed by kind Therese that this “happens all the time” and insurance is included in the rental. But watch out for potholes, they’re everywhere. Now she tells me. 

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“The eleventh is Noatun; | there has Njorth
For himself a dwelling set;
The sinless ruler | of men there sits
In his temple timbered high.”

 

The Saga continues here as the Valkyries finally are introduced to their noble steeds and boldly ride towards new adventures. Inclement Weather Warning: Some adventures may come without pictures due to non-submersible phones/camera equipment.

We Go North the Rush Is On ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse I

Picture it: Germany, 2016. A gleaming white ICE rushes towards the majestic Hanse city of Hamburg. It has departed ancient Nuremberg in the early hours of dawn, its nose unerringly pointed north. For over 300 miles it has traversed the country; rushing through Frankonia’s hills and vineyards at breakneck speeds, carefully navigating the forested highlands of Hesse, and finally barreling into the flat expanse of Lower Saxony like a very German and thus sleek, efficient, and air conditioned Bat out of Hell. By now the midsummer sun stands high in the sky. Black and white blobs dot the green landscape basking in the heat- they might be cows. At 170 mph it can be hard to tell. One of the three lovely American ladies who are firmly ensconced in the on board café gives her empty cappuccino cup a mournful look. Is there time for another?

“Guys, I think we’re slowing down.”

Hamburg
Ooooooh we’re halfway theeheere

 

And so they are. Coasting into fair Hamburg, city of elegant mansions and merry red-light districts, rowdy soccer fans and obscenely rich merchant nobility. Canals and harbors, sailing ships and mighty container vessels, and of course the busy Hauptbahnhof.

Picture, if you will, the three Americans confidently grabbing their eclectic assortment of bags and suitcases, some of those emitting a faint aroma of horse. One by one, they spill out onto the platform, bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and their necks craning like baby owls’ to take in this new, unknown place in all its fascinating details.

They’ve drawn a bit of attention on their journey, those amiable ladies (being Teutonic attention of course it was mostly discreet). Whether it were the distinctly military looking duffel bags propped against a sturdy red Samsonite (which by the looks of it is the only one to have seen a war zone), the mentioned equine scent, or their animated chatter in a foreign language; they are exotic this far from any of the Army bases tucked into Bavaria’s deep forests. Which is not a bad thing, as it turns out.

They have traveled the world. They have safely navigated some of the planet’s largest airports, and at least one of them is equipped with a carrier pigeon’s sense of direction. Surely, they can find their way from one train to another?

Maybe not. Where is Ariadne with her wool when you need the old girl? A map wouldn’t go amiss, either. Golly, I swear I just saw Dr. Livingstone.

“Do the ladies require assistance?” A “Hanseat” appears, as if conjured out of a stereotype parallel universe, complete with smart suit and affable dignity. Utterly charmed, the ladies nod in unison. Why yes sir, they do. They do indeed.

Perhaps they still tell tales of the three American ducks following the Hanseatic swan. Hamburg is a harbor city, and sailors love a good story. “The Soldier and the Merchant Prince” has a nice ring to it. Or so the young ducklings would have agreed, if not for the stubborn mother duck being more interested in food and that wretched train. A magical romance, withered beneath the German summer sun before it could blossom.

We’ll always have Hamburg…

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It’s quite a different train that takes the urban German from the bustling metropolis out to the coast, and onward to the fabled island of Sylt. Chugging along at a pace sedate enough to identify the black and white blobs as large, gentle Holstein cows; crossing rivers and seemingly endless plains, one lazy hour after the other. It is nearly mid-afternoon when one of the hitherto peacefully dozing Americans sniffs the air and strikes a heroic pose (as heroic as one might, hemmed in by luggage and German bicycles haphazardly piled upon one another) and declares: “Thálatta!”

Riding a train through the Atlantic Ocean sounds rather more dramatic than it is. The Hindenburgdamm, while a triumph of German engineering I’m sure, does not inspire much awe from actual Germans. Yet it is a sight. A teenage Teuton is happily explaining the history and geography of the region to the youngest American, while outside the windows eternity seems to stretch on in a thousand shades of blue. All too soon the ocean gives way to dunes and scrappy heather. And then the Americans spill out onto another platform, bushy tails looking rather a bit more travel worn by now, yet their spirits remain undimmed.

Moin!” Once more, the travelers are proving exotic enough to alert their Taxi driver that these are indeed The Americans She Is Looking For. And thus they are gently shepherded into the Mercedes that will take them North yet again, to the harbor and the ferry. Clear across the island, past the windswept dunes and the summer villas of the rich and famous, past the simpler yet infinitely more charming dwellings of the locals, past Chanel outlets and trendy bars.

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At a place located at 55°0′N 8°26′E, the heat should not be permitted to be this oppressive. Even the breeze from the open ocean provides only little relief. After bidding their kind driver a fond farewell, the travelers shoulder their luggage which seems to inexplicably have gained 50 pounds since Hamburg, and meander their way through flocks of tourists and inquisitive seagulls. The older teen is the first to spy the Dannebrog flying high above the ferry that sits on the picturesque little harbor’s outer edge. Vikings of old have shown less enthusiasm storming towards Paris than these three Americans do charging towards this second to last leg of their long journey. They probably didn’t sweat so much, either. 

Ferry
Yes, but why is the rum gone? –  (overheard at the Duty-free)

 

It’s the loveliest part, and thus of course the shortest. Propelled across the open water by powerful engines, the little ferry crosses the distance in less than an hour.

At first it’s only a pale smudge on the horizon. Then a dancing mirage in ivory and green. At last, the coastline of Rømø, stretching out under an almost ridiculous postcard-blue sky.

Velkommen til Danmark.

The Americans disembark amidst a flurry of automobiles and bicycles. The hotel is supposed to have arranged transportation for the final leg, but much as they strain their aching necks, they cannot locate a bus, or anything resembling a shuttle service.

Horse people know one another. It’s a constant in the universe, one that has been proven time and again. Thus the tall, bearded descendant of mighty warriors has no trouble honing in on the three ladies walking in bewildered circles.

“Hej! Hvad så! My Americans, ja?”

“What gave us away?”

“Away where?”

Thus they are piled into a sturdy old Land Rover. At long last, exhaustion and heat take their toll; or perhaps it’s the soothing aroma of horse and saddle soap that permeates the Rover’s interior, but the three ladies soon resemble a baroque painting. A slightly odd one, with three graces in jeans and t-shirts languidly draped over horse blankets and assorted tack. Still, they instantly become alert when Olaf mentions a seafood buffet just as they come to a stop after what felt a mere five minutes.

Dusk has fallen by the time the three graces stumble from the magnificent little hotel restaurant, having done their ancestors proud by executing a flawless raid of every dish in evidence, and going back for seconds. Then thirds. You better believe I have room for dessert. Their room awaits, as does their luggage which kind and thoughtful Olaf has already deposited there. After 15 hours on rail, road and sea, they are ready to postpone the adventure of Denmark until dawn.

But it finds them first.

As they round a corner, the sun dips below the western horizon and warm lights spring to life, illuminating a path to the pool and the front door of what will turn out to be a charming little apartment. A breeze from the ocean rustles the trees, carrying a scent of salt and roses and horses with it.

“This is it. I live here now.”

A donkey somewhere behind the trees brays his agreement.

Romo Hotel

Vafthruthnir spake:

“The father of day | is Delling called,
And the night was begotten by Nor;
Full moon and old | by the gods were fashioned,
To tell the time for men.”

 

The Saga continues here: Horses, bicycles and assorted calamities connected therewith. More pictures.